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Education tops in governors budget

Debate will likely rage over key parts of the proposal


The governor’s state budget proposal has set officials talking, but its presentation last week was just the first step in a long process.

In his proposed budget, Gov. John Kitzhaber calls for sweeping changes in public employee pensions and criminal sentencing, with roughly half of the $16.5 billion put forth in the budget going to public education.

“This budget represents the governor’s priorities, the executive priorities,” said State Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, who serves as a vice chair on the Oregon Legislature’s budget committee, the Ways and Means Committee.

She said this budget was significant in the way it looked at desired outcomes, weeding out redundancies.

“For the first time, the governor tried to take a longer look than just two years,” Johnson said.

Columbia County Commissioner Tony Hyde was a part of this process, participating on Kitzhaber’s Jobs and Economy Team.

Kitzhaber outlined some major themes for Oregon, Johnson said, focusing in a large part on the public education system which has suffered from numerous cuts over the years.

In order to put more money into education, Kitzhaber wants to draw on savings gained by slashing at the Public Employees Retirement System fund. Johnson estimates approximately 26 percent of school payrolls are currently devoted to PERS payments.

Leaders of the Oregon School Boards Association have hailed the budget proposal as a “positive first step toward establishing a stable source of funding.”

“We simply cannot continue to cut resources available to schools and expect our students to do well in their careers,” said OSBA Interim Executive Director Betsy Miller-Jones.

Kitzhaber’s budget would also require savings on the part of public safety, halting any plans for a new prison and keeping prisoner populations virtually static.

“Both are going to have some controversial aspects,” Johnson said. While she believes she can stand behind the PERS decision, she said she will have a lot of questions about the public safety component.

The budget proposal now moves to the Legislature where state officials will begin to lay down the groundwork to formulate the Legislature’s own budget proposal beginning in February. Then begins the efforts to harmonize the two budgets and craft one cohesive document.

For more detailed information about Kitzhaber’s budget proposal, visit http://www.oregon.gov/gov/priorities/pages/budget.aspx.